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Loki’s Debut proves Exposition Doesn’t Have to be Boring

Here we go! The latest Marvel show is upon us, this time focusing on the Loki Laufeyson who escaped the Avengers during Endgame’s time travel shenanigans. In case you forgot or did not understand how a Loki show could exist, the opening scene reminds you by replaying the botched attempt to retrieve the Tesseract during the battle of New York City.

Did I get stupidly hyped just from seeing all the Avengers on screen together again? Yeah, I won’t deny it. Kicking Loki off this way was a good start on Kevin Feige’s statement about this show being the most important yet to the MCU.

This move by Loki results in him getting picked up by the Time Variance Authority, time cops who monitor the Sacred Timeline and remove those who violate it. Who are the TVA? What is a Sacred Timeline? Why is there a desk drawer full of Infinity Stones? In my best Don Draper voice, “That’s what the exposition is for!”

Loki in the desert

I think the best thing I can say about the Loki premiere is that despite the overwhelming amount of explaining and worldbuilding it needs to get through, it did not feel like nearly as much exposition as I know existed. I never felt bored from dry explanations of what things are or why they exist. Much of the credit goes to Tom Hiddleston and Owen Wilson, who have strong chemistry from the start and play off each other well. You can already see just how much of this show will depend on these two, and they are off to a great start.

Still, there was SO much to get through here. We needed an explanation of who the TVA are and why they picked Loki up. They are a brand-new entity to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and one of a nature well beyond anything we have yet seen. Loki has been well established as one of more powerful figures in the MCU, and seeing him rendered damn near helpless against even the grunts of the TVA tells you a lot about their power.

In short, the TVA are a creation of absurdly powerful beings called Time Keepers. They stopped some grand multiverse war by creating a single timeline they monitor. Anyone who branches off this timeline is a Variant risking the recreation of multiverses, which would lead to another multiverse war, which is obviously a bad thing. It is the job of TVA to stop said Variants, and Loki became one after stealing the Tesseract back. Another Variant is murdering time cops left and right, and Owen Wilson’s Agent Mobius says another Loki is the murderer.

I am not much of a fan of time traveling multiverse junk since it typically always leads to absurd plot holes and cop-outs that I do not like. You can already see the problems popping up in Loki. Why is Loki a Variant and not the Avengers? Tony Stark and Steve Rogers literally only took their trip together because the attempt to gather all the stones in New York failed when Loki escaped. Why are they not Variants? How does this apply or not to characters who manipulate dimensions and reality already?

There are already major problems in how this can make any sense.

(Though I do like Mobius’s meta explanation about how Loki’s evil was always in service of making heroes into the best versions of themselves. If that isn’t comic books in a nutshell. I hope they explore that idea further, and it seems they will with the focus on fate and self-determination.)

Having to try and sell an audience on all this confusing exposition, packed end to end, should have made for a worse premiere. I specifically would hate television like this some ninety percent of the time. Instead, I think we got a pretty entertaining episode because Loki knew exactly when and how to break all that exposition apart into digestible pieces. They seemed to know exactly when to stop and either give you something new to look at or listen to.

There is also some strong variety here. One scene gives you exposition through a Hanna-Barbera-style cartoon welcoming Loki to the TVA. His court hearing/trial tells you what he did wrong and why. The Mobius interrogation/therapy scenes blend character development with said exposition. At the very least, the episode never settles into one place long enough to bore you or make you anxious to move on.

Of course it helps to create a pleasing visual feast, and wow is the general visual aesthetic of Loki a serious treat to look at. The outdated tech and orange color scheme is lovely. If nothing else, I would never lose interest simply because I loved looking at the screen. It reminded me of a mix between Portal and Fallout.

Loki Watching Odin on Screen

It also helps when they knew when to not explicitly explain something, and instead show us what we need to know. If Loki had simply believed Mobius’s explanations about the power of the TVA, that would never feel as satisfying as the moment when he finds the desk drawer of useless Infinity Stones, which to this point were the most powerful objects in the MCU, and realizes through action just how much more powerful the TVA is than the greatest power he knew.

Overall, it shows the power of good writing and the actors capable of pulling it off. Every show needs exposition. You have to establish the circumstances and rules of the world your characters inhabit. We need things explained to us. Some handle this bit better than others, and Loki served as a better example. They kept the dialogue snappy, the focus interesting and varied, the scenery interesting.

There is much more to talk about within Loki’s debut episode. Loki’s therapy sessions were good scenes for establishing his character arc, functioning as recaps of important plot points, and the way they continued the MCU’s mission to justify and retroactively improve its worst movies. The known multiverse focus of future MCU movies suggests that something is going to end the TVA, or at least take away their power over the timelines.

We can and will get into that as it happens, though. With enough time travel nonsense, even Tom Hiddleston’s ever-excellent portrayal of the God of Mischief may not be enough to override the absurdity of a time-jumping, multiverse-traversing plot that cannot help but contradict itself from moment to moment. We also have the repeating problem of audience expectation and theorizing so prevalent in fandom opinion of WandaVision.

For now, I just want to appreciate a nice slice of television showing that exposition can be done right. Good job, Loki.

Images Courtesy of Marvel Studios

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  • Bo relaxes after long days of staring at computers by staring at computers some more, and feels slightly guilty over his love for Villanelle.

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